MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN): As problems mounted in the distribution of emergency subsidies to poor families during the coronavirus crisis, the chair of the House ways and means committee on Tuesday (April 7) suggested a radical change in the government’s approach.
Instead of giving the second installment of the 5,000-to-8,000 pesos assistance per month to 18 million indigent families, why not grant a universal basic income of 1,000 pesos to all Filipinos, except the wealthiest 10 per cent?
Albay Rep Joey Salceda said the emergency aid should not be limited to the poor but expanded to the middle class, considering its contribution to the country’s tax revenue.
The administration is open to extending a helping hand to the middle class.
“The middle class cannot avail themselves of the social amelioration. So we have to study what programme we can create for them, ” Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, spokesperson of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases, said on Tuesday.
Nograles made the remarks after President Rodrigo Duterte agreed with Cavite Gov Jonvic Remulla’s proposal for the government to also help the middle class.
“The point raised by Governor Remulla of Cavite, I think, is valid. We’ll try to remedy it with whatever we find down the road, ” Duterte said in a televised address late Monday night.
The President described the middle class as those who “have climbed up their way in life” but were also hurting from the novel coronavirus crisis and the ensuing lockdown.
“These middle-income earners are the ones who are renting a house in a nice subdivision and they have a little money saved for the rainy days. Now, what is really very sad is that the rain has arrived, ” he said.
Duterte said Remulla wrote him a letter to appeal that his middle-class constituents in Cavite province be included in the government’s cash aid, which was meant for low-income families.
If he had his way, the President said he would include middle-class Filipinos in the cash aid program, but he admitted that funding was not enough to sustain even for low-income families.
He ordered Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III to produce more funds for the government’s Covid-19 response.
“In the estimates, we did not include the middle class, ” the President said.
In a March 25 letter to Duterte, Salceda proposed that “all Filipinos, except those in the top 10 per cent” of the population, receive 1,000 pesos each during the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine.
This would be in lieu of the second installment of the cash subsidy for poor families under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, Salceda told the Inquirer.
The law authorizes the president to tap off-budget outlays amounting to 275 billion pesos, of which 200 billion pesos would go to the monthly cash subsidy for poor households over a two-month period.
The government has begun distributing the social amelioration package through the Department of Social Welfare and Development, but the process has been hampered by red tape and problems in identifying beneficiaries under a “quota system.”
Salceda suggested that the second half of the 200-billion pesos outlay for the cash assistance be guided instead by a universal basic income approach.
“It will do away much of the convoluted eligibilities and make for faster distribution, ” he said, noting that he first recommended the approach in a letter to the IATF on March 19.
The lawmaker cited the contribution of middle-income households to the country’s tax intake.
“I asked the President to consider a basic income approach to distributing the emergency subsidy. Essentially, you distribute 1,000 to 2,000 pesos per head, ” Salceda said.
The only eligibility is if one is Filipino and “not rich, ” he said.
Salceda said the basic income approach would be advantageous “for ease of administration, ease of accountability and to avoid arbitrariness in selecting eligible beneficiaries and sectors.”
“Basic income would be easier to target (i.e., if you are wealthier than 90 per cent of Filipinos, you will not receive it. Otherwise, you are entitled). It would entail less administrative costs as it would not require the kind of data mining required of identifying beneficiaries from existing but disjointed lists, ” he said in the letter. - The Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network
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